Launch of the Titanic - An impressive spectacle at Queens Island (Belfast)
From the Belfast Newsletter - 1st June, 1911
In the presence of thousands of spectators the s.s. Titanic which will share with the Olympic the distinction of being one of the two largest vessels afloat, was launched from Messrs. Harland & Wolff's yard at the Queen's Island yesterday. When the Olympic was launched on the 20th October last there was considerable speculation as to how the ceremony would pass off as up to that time no ship of her enormous dimensions had ever left the ways, and extraordinary precautions had to be taken in order to provide against any accident. However as matters turned out it was proved that there was no cause for anxiety. The builders had left nothing to chance and the launch was one of the most successful ever witnessed at the Island. The experience gained on that occasion was very serviceable when applied to yesterday's proceedings, and the certainty and smoothness with which the launch was effected spoke volumes for the efficiency of the organisation. No one doubted for a single moment that the huge vessel would take the water without any trouble occurring in regard to her departure from the slips, but they could hardly have anticipated that the scene presented would be so inspiriting and impressive as it actually was. It was the significance of the thing which struck their imagination and caused many of them to become very eager and excited as the time approached for releasing the hydraulic apparatus which would set the vessel in motion and her gliding down the ways into the river.
As the design and dimensions of the Titanic and the Olympic are practically identical it is not now necessary to say much on this point, seeing that a detailed description of the latter - which would apply equally to her sister ship - has already been published in our columns. The vessels mark a new epoch in naval architecture. In size, construction, and equipment they represent the last word in this science, and the success of the Olympic in her trials will reassure both the builders and the owners, the former on the suitability of the design and the latter on the wisdom of the step which they took when they resolved on making this important addition to their fleet. The leading dimensions of the Titanic are as follows; Length over all: 882ft. breadth, extreme 92ft. 6in. depth, moulded keel to top of beam, bridge deck, 73ft. 6in. total height from keel to navigating bridge, 194ft; gross tonnage about 45,000 tons; load draft, 34ft. 6in. displacement about 60,000 tons; indicated horse power of reciprocating engines, 30,000; shaft horse-power of turbine engine 16,000, speed 21 knots. It may be mentioned that there are fifteen transverse water-tight bulkheads extending from the double bottom to the upper deck, at the forward end of the ship, and to the saloon deck at the after end - in both instances far above the local water line. The room in which the reciprocating engines are placed is the largest of the water tight compartments being about 69 feet long while the turbine room is 57 feet long. So thorough are the precautions which have been taken to prevent the ship from sinking in the event of a serious accident that any two compartments may be flooded without endangering the safety of the vessel. The Titanic, like her sister ship, will have ten decks two of which will be above the moulded structure of the ship; and the accommodation for the three classes of passengers to be carried will be of the most comfortable and up-to-date character.
It was a happy coincidence that on the day of the launch of the second of the two liners, Lord and Lady Pirrie were celebrating their birthday. As the head of the firm of Messrs. Harland & Wolff, Lord Pirrie has naturally been keenly interested in the construction of these epoch making vessels, and he has personally supervised the building operations. There is no detail either of machinery, decoration, or equipment that he has not made himself familiar with, and it is largely due to his courage and initiative, together with his capacity for organisation that the Olympic is now completed, while the Titanic has been safely launched and will in the course of a few months take her place in the White Star Line service. Both his Lordship and Lady Pirrie received many congratulations on the happy coincidence distinguishing the events of yesterday , amongst the well-wishers being Mr Pierpont Morgan, the American millionaire who was one of the spectators at the launch. Mr Morgan occupied a place on the owners' stand which had been erected under one of the huge gantries on the port side of the Titanic. Three other stands had been erected at the end of the yard opposite the bows of the vessel. One of these was reserved for the representatives of the Press, who numbered upwards of one hundred, whilst the others were for the accommodation of ticket-holders. The stands were by no means adequate for all who had assembled and hundreds of people took up positions in various parts of the yard from where they could see the ship enter the water. The Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress (Mr. and Mrs. McMordie) were amongst the onlookers, and many other prominent citizens helped to swell the attendance.
Ladies formed a considerable proportion of the aggregate attendance, and even if their picturesque frocks appeared a trifle incongruous when contrasted with the surroundings of the shipyard itself they were unmistakably in harmony with the glow of the soft turquoise sky, from which the piercing rays of the sun descended, making the heat exceedingly trying for those who witnessed the launch. Through the courtesy of the Harbour Commissioners the Albert Quay was reserved to the authorities of those two excellent charities, the Children's Hospital in Queen Street and the Ulster Hospital for Children and Women and a charge was made for admission, the object being to benefit the two institutions named. The space available at the quay is very extensive, but it was all taken up an hour before the launch, and the sides of the river were so closely wedged together as to form a solid mass.
To provide for the conveyance of the crowds, Mr Nance, the General Manager, had made arrangements for augmenting the tramway service, and from half past ten until twelve o'clock all the cars proceeding via Queen's Road or Corporation Street carried their full complement of passengers. Many of the spectators had travelled from distant towns for the sole purpose of witnessing the ceremony, and if they saw the Titanic as she gracefully left the wave they must have felt amply repaid for all their trouble, as the spectacle was one which can never fade from the memory of those who witnessed it.
During the morning gangs of men were engaged in removing the heavy wooden posts which supported the vessel, a powerful ram being also used in the operation. The clanging of hammers was heard all over the ship as the preparations for the launch were developed, but the men using them were for the most part hidden from view. About twelve o'clock Lord Pirrie left the owners' stand in order to make a last tour of inspection and to give final instructions, and responsible officials watched the movements of the hands on the hydraulic triggers as the supports were removed and the ship settled down on the launching ways. Every detail had to be judged with mathematical accuracy if accidents had to be averted, and the preparations had therefore to be made with great care and caution. Over the bows of the vessel the White Star Company's flag floated, and there was displayed a code signal which spelled the word "success". If the circumstances under which the launch took place can be accepted as an augury of the future, the Titanic should be a huge success. The weather was glorious, a multitude of people assembled to bid the vessel "God speed", and it would be impossible to conceive of a launch for which the whole of the conditions could be more ideal.
The ceremony had been fixed for a quarter past twelve, and ten minutes before that time a red flag was hoisted at the stern of the vessel. Five minutes later two rockets were discharged shortly afterwards the explosion of another rocket was heard, and at 12.13 the spectators had the joy and satisfaction of seeing the vessel in motion. It was a wonderful and awe-inspiring sight and a thrill passed through the crowd as their hopes and expectations were realised. The ship glided down to the river with a grace and dignity which for the moment gave one the impression that she was conscious of her own strength and beauty, and there was a roar of cheers as the timber by which she had been supported yielded to the pressure put upon them. She took the water as though she were eager for the baptism, and in the short space of 62 seconds she was entirely free of the ways. The arrangements for checking her when once she had entered the river were similar to those adopted in the case of the Olympic. On each side of the ship anchors had been placed in the bed of the river, and to them were attached hawsers which were fastened to eye plates on board. Cable drags, connected with the vessel in a similar fashion, were also used, and by means of them and the anchors the Titanic was pulled up in less than one half of her own length. The men on board took off their caps and cheered lustily after the launch had been consummated, and the thousands of people in the yard and on the banks of the river promptly followed their example. For two or three minutes there were scenes of great enthusiasm. The tugs which were waiting close at hand to convey the vessel to the deep water wharf, where she will receive her engines, sent up shrill sounds from their sirens, the ladies waved their handkerchiefs excitedly, and the men shouted themselves hoarse. But gradually the noise of the sirens and the cheers of the spectators died away, and a quarter of an hour after the vessel had been pulled up the crowd had melted away, and the yard was left in possession of the workmen who had for months been devoting their energies and talents to the building of the mighty leviathan.
Yesterday afternoon the Olympic left for Liverpool, having on board Lord Pirrie, Mr J. Bruce Ismay, Mr Pierpont Morgan, and other gentlemen who had travelled specially to Belfast in order to witness the launch; but previous to the departure of the vessel from the Lough the visitors were entertained at luncheon at the Queen's Island. A number of other guests, together with some of the principal officials at the Queen's Island, were entertained by Messrs. Harland & Wolff at the Grand Central Hotel, where luncheon was served. The proceedings were presided over by Mr J. W. Kempster.
It may be stated that the launching weight of the Titanic was between 25,000 and 26,000 tons. That interest in the launch was not by any means confined to Belfast was shown by the presence of so many Pressmen. Most of the leading London and English provincial newspapers were represented, and two or three American journalists were in attendance. The Pressmen were conveyed to and from Belfast on the Fleetwood steamer, the Duke of Argyll, which had been specially chartered for the occasion by the owners of the White Star Line and every provision was made for their comfort and convenience. The reporting of the proceedings was reflected in the increased amount of work which devolved on the staff in the telegraph department at the Post Office, about 300,000 words being contained in the messages which were despatched by the various correspondents.
Speaking at the luncheon for pressmen, Mr J. W. Kempster said that when he had seen the first Oceanic with a tonnage of 2,800 register, he felt immensely proud. He had seen many bigger vessels since then, and now they had the Titanic and the Olympic, the largest ships yet launched. He could say a good deal about the builders; but that was not the time for doing so. He would, however, ask the guests to recognise in the heartiest manner the help that had been rendered them by Mr. Shelley, Mr Saxon J. Payne, and Mr Workman of the White Star line.
Mr Saxon J. Payne responded. He was glad to say that the trials of the Olympic had proved very satisfactory, while they had all admired the manner in which the launch of her sister ship was carried out. The two vessels were pre-eminent examples of the vitality and the progressive instincts of the Anglo-Saxon race, and he did not see anything which need cause them alarm regarding the prospects for the future. As a race they were young and strong and vigorous, and by what it had done in assisting the White Star line in its great and commendable enterprise, Belfast could lay no small share in the maintenance of the prosperity of the British Empire. Continuing, Mr Payne stated that the speed of the Titanic at the launch was at the rate of 12 knots, and in her and her sister ship they had an illustration of the latest attainments in naval architecture and marine engineering. The time occupied in the actual launch was 62 seconds, and the displacement was between 24,000 and 25,000 tons, a little less than that of the Olympic. The speaker added that Lord Pirrie would have liked to join them at the luncheon, but he was unable to do so. In his Lordship's name, however, the speaker wished to say how glad he was to welcome the Pressmen to Belfast; and he felt sure that the hope of all of them was that at no distant date they might have something at least equal, if not superior to the vessel they had seen launched that day to again justify their presence in that humble Irish village on the Lagan
Read a Victorian man's impression of Belfast.
As told by Samuel Smiles who wrote an account of his visits to Ireland in 1884.
Belfast's ship building industry as told by J.E. Harland in 1884 (Harland of the shipyard Harland & Wolff which built the famous but ill fated ocean liner, Titanic, amongst others.